November 2012

Thoughts on the Jewish-Arab Conflict

Having just gotten back from Israel, I seem to have stirred the ire of friends and relatives in my comments in support of Israel. So, I thought it best to not trivialize the topic and write a bit more in-depth about my thoughts. There was some correspondence on Facebook regarding these ideas, but I realized that the conversation had degenerated into thoughtless responses. Many people automatically form a party line, whether it be a Democratic party, the Republican party, Ron Paul party, a dispensationalist evangelical Christian party, and respond as such without thinking seriously about the situation.
First, there are a few definite points that I wish to make…

  1. I am not pro-Israel or pro-Jewish. I am not pro-Tazmania or pro-Madagascar. To a great extent, I am not even pro-USA, although I have pro-USA sentiments only in that this is my homeland.
  2. I am not pro-Arab, nor am I anti-Arab. Too many of my dear friends are Arabian, or Iranian, or Turkish or something of the like. The Jews tend to be better thinkers for intellectual conversation, but the Arabs/Iranians/Turks tend to be more enjoyable people as friends. It’s hard to be anti-Arab once you know a few of them. By the way, the term Arab is often confused with all Muslim mid-East peoples. This is a collosal mistake. Turkey and Iran, for instance, are NOT Arab. And, there are a large number of non-Muslim Arabs.
  3. I do not view Israel in an eschatological sense as referring to people in a homeland that is now referred to as Palestine. I am not dispensational, and do not consider the return of Jews to Palestine as of highthened significance or a reflection of the fulfillment of any prophecy, since I do not see the Jews as having found their Messiah.
  4. I am uncertain about the continued biblical significance of the city of Jerusalem. Is it the place where Christ returns? Does it remain special among the cities of the world in God’s eyes? I don’t think so.
  5. I find no good evidence to suggest that the Jews living in Palestine today are not descendants of Jacob, though not always descendants of Judah (thus, the slightly loose terminology, which I’ll persist in. I won’t use the term Judahite because I don’t use the term “Jew” to specifically refer to those from the tribe of Judah). There is exceedingly poor evidence that the “Jews” are actually a mishmash of Edomites and races other than people descendant from Jacob, and the evidence for British Israelitism is even worse.

I also have made various observations regarding the situation in Palestine…

  1. The news media often makes overt lies about the situation in Palestine, and often is exceedingly deceptive about the situation, usually always with a pro-Arab bias. It is nearly impossible to know the exact situation, and visitors to Israel will often come back with very mixed feelings about the situation. My sense of inability to know the truth of the situation has been criticised as being defeatist in suggesting that we can know no truth about the situation, thus not allowing us to make decisions about Israel. I agree, but, it is NOT ours to make decisions about Israel, as I’ll clarify later on.
  2. Arabs in Israel outside of Gaza are in a vastly better situation that Arabs anywhere else in the mideast. The average salary of an Arab in Jordan is $30 / month. The Arabs on the west bank has a vastly greater income, and this is true elsewhere in Israel outside of Gaza (I say that because I simply do not know the situation in Gaza). The Jewish situation has served the Arabs well, and many of them know and appreciate that.
  3. I am told that the current population of Israel is about 6 million Jews and 2 million Arabs. Many of these Arabs live outside of the west bank or Gaza and in Israel itself. There are many towns that are solely Arab, such as Cana and Nazareth. These Arabs are free to come and go as they please. Their land is not encroached on by Jews.
  4. There are a number of towns and locations in the West Bank that are completely off-limits to Jews except by special permission. These places include Jericho, Bethlehem, and many locations in the northern West Bank, such as at Shechem.
  5. Most of the Jews, as well as most of the Arabs, that I have gotten to know have had a desire for a peaceful resolution to the issues in Palestine. Neither group has had a strong desire to eliminate the other party. Most seem to express a bona fide desire for some sort of settlement of issues, even if it resulted in some personal loss.
  6. Unlike most Americans whose knowledge of history is shoddy, both the Jews and Arabs remember history. The Jews in particular have a very strong memory of the Masada, and swear to never allow that to happen again. They have a distinct memory of being cast out of Great Britain, Spain, Italy, France, Germany (the holocaust) and Russia. You can see this memory every day as you walk the streets of Jerusalem. They have a particular fixation on never loosing their homeland again.
  7. Hamas rhetoric has been defiant about challenging the Jewish right to their so-called homeland. Hamas has persistently stated their desire eliminate the Jews from Palestine. Hamas, if you’ve forgotten, has been voted in by the Gaza population in a democratic election.
  8. Many of the current Jews in Israel are descendant of those who came out of Russian, bringing the Marxist/Communist ideology with them, as noted in the formation of the Kibbutzim. External capital has been necessary because of this faulty economic ideology. Historically, much of the money has come from sordid sources, such as the Rothschilds. The Rothschilds seem to have promoted a number of European wars through their money lending, and have tended to seem more interested in profits than in peace. Whether they are a part of a vast conspiracy I’ll leave to others to decide, though the Rothschilds are on the lips of most conspiracy theorists.

A number of people have accused the Israelis of apartheid. Is that true? I’ve not been to South Africa to know and understand the nature of apartheid, but I fear the word “apartheid” might be used a bit too freely. Apartheid simply means separation on account of race. That’s a terrible definition in this setting since it is mostly impossible to distinguish an Arab or Israeli by race alone. With their clothes off, they look alike! The real issue is cultural differences that separate the two factions. Arabs and Israelis dress differently, have different religions, behave differently, and have completely different goals and aspirations for themselves and for their land. If you wish to identify apartheid occurring, it must be on the basis of religion, economics, dress, or something else. Yet, isn’t that a phenomenon that occurs virtually everywhere in the world? Has Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Europe, or the USA ever been seriously accused of apartheid? Yet, all countries have very distinct separations based on personal attributes. You can’t go to China or Japan and expect to be treated exactly like a Chinese or Japanese. I haven’t seen anybody accuse China or Japan of apartheid. So, I suppose, something else is really meant.
Could it be that the Israelis purposely force an economic disadvantage on their Arab countrymen? I can’t answer that question. The facts are quite obvious that Arabs tend to flock to Israel from the surrounding countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere because there is a strong economic advantage to living in Israel. Gaza inhabitants want the borders open because of the economic advantage of the Jewish influence, and wish to work and recreation in Israel proper. So, it is possible that the Arabs are relatively disadvantaged as compared to Jews, yet distinctly advantaged as compared to their treatment in other Arab lands. There are many stories of Israeli atrocities against the Arabs, and I suspect that many of them are true. Yet, it is difficult to be in such a removed position to act as the final arbitrator and judge on the situation. We are presuming too much! So, apartheid simply is a false accusation.
A pressing question is, whose land is it? I refer the reader to a documentary analysis of the land question in the book From Time Immemorial by Joan Peters. By strictly historical standards, it belongs to the Canaanites, since they owned it first. The Canaanites no longer exist. Philistines had a long occupation of the land, but they were invaders. The Israelites (and now Jews) have had the longest possession of the land, yet it was given to them by God on a conditional basis, which they have not met. The land was forcefully taken from them in a manner that defies description. The Muslims were invaders. Christians briefly owned the land during the Crusader era. The Ottomans (Turks) were the last owners before the British took occupation of the land. So, a historical precedent goes weakly to the Jews. From a population point of view, during the Ottoman occupation, almost nobody lived in the land. Migrations began at the beginning of the 20th century, but these migrations were not natural, with the British forcefully blocking Jewish immigration in a near Nazi fashion. Even still, by 1948, there were approximately equal numbers of Arabs and Jews in the land. So, the population itself does not answer the question. The West Bank was last owned by Jordan, who never had a longstanding right to ownership of that part of Palestine. The same goes for Egypt and the Gaza strip. The Golan is not heavily occupied, and mostly by Arabs that are disenfranchised from the Muslims of Syria, who (Syrians) also have no longstanding right to ownership of the land. TE Lawrence promised all of Palestine to the Arabs for their assistance in fighting the Germans, a promise made singularly and immediately not withheld by Great Britain, who also has no longstanding right to the land. On a simple land basis, Arabs own large portions of land within Israel proper. If Jews don’t belong in the West Bank, does the reciprocal idea hold true? Should the Jews force the Arabs out of Israel proper if the Jews are forced out of the West Bank? Jewish settlements in the West Bank have for the most part been purchased lands, and not “stolen” or booty of war, as the news media would lead you to believe. Perhaps the real apartheid is being forced by the Arabs on the Jews!
What is an appropriate military response of the Israelis to an attack on their area of Israel? Most people would respond that the Israelis have a right to respond, but that it needs to be a measured response commensurate with the destruction of the attack. Statistics are often given that show much greater damage and lives taken out by Israelis than by the Gaza Arabs. Two issues need to be clarified. First, when rockets are fired on a civilian population and statements made by the Palestinians that they intend to eliminate the state of Israel from the map, that does not sound like an act of terrorism, but rather, a declaration of war. Since when does a war limit the response of either party to commensurate damage? Secondly, the Palestinians have intentionally placed military operations in populated centers in order to stir an international reaction. The dupes are those Westerners who fail to take these matters into account and utilize the statistics for precise analysis of the situation, and not emotional knee-jerk opinions.
I object seriously to the US response to the entire situation. Those who know me know that I am a Ron Paul supporter and that I support his stance of aggressive non-intervention in the entire situation. I don’t always agree with the rationality of Ron Paul, but I do agree with his ultimate conclusion here. Ron Paul comments that we should immediately cease and desist from supporting every faction in this conflict. I couldn’t agree more. Why are we sending millions of dollars into Israel, millions in Gaza, millions into Egypt, millions into Syria, and millions more into the other nations in the mid-east? Is this not serving the opposite of its intended purpose, by not forcing all parties to a more amicable solution.
Why has the church not developed a peaceful solution to the situation? Why have we not had our brightest and best thinkers propose solutions that would promote the Kingdom in the states of the mid-east? Why have we not insisted on non-military solutions? Where are the missionaries that could be streaming into these nations that need a true answer to the dilemma? Doesn’t Christ suggest that peacemakers are the most blessed of all people? Or, do we persist in the military rhetoric of the last 100 years that can peace comes through war? Hasn’t the last 100 years taught us that war only begets more war? If we honestly feel dispensational enough to think that the land of Palestine belongs to the Jews and that they need to re-conquer the land as Joshua through David did, are we willing to concede that genocide to wipe out the “heathen” populations of the land, as Joshua was commanded to do, would be appropriate? Or, do we find it strange that David employed many military personnel that was not Israelites! Perhaps you haven’t noticed that Bathsheba’s first husband was Uriah the Hittite, and he was listed as one of David’s mighty men?  Or, that David would sacrifice Israelites to avenge the wrongful deaths of Gibeonites, who were Canaanites? Clearly, the Scripture points to a higher ethic than just the preservation of a race.
The bible does ask Christians to do three responses for Israel. The first is to pray for peace in Jerusalem. When was the last time you did that or did the church specifically get together to pray for peace among Arabs and Israelis? Secondly, the church is to act as a peacemaker. When was the last time the church refused to take sides in the Arab/Israeli conflict in order to truly seek for a lasting peace? Thirdly, the church is responsible for promoting the kingdom. When was the last time the church considered bold responses in bringing the kingdom of God to Palestine? There are many Arab Christians, and a few Israeli (Jewish) Christians. Have we supported and prayed for their ministries? Have we fought for their freedom to deliver the gospel in Israel? It is said (I can’t verify it) that Israel is very restrictive to Christian missionaries—when was the last time the church filed a formal complaint to the US state department regarding this? Perhaps we are not quite so interested in peace and promoting the Kingdom of God as we’d like to think!
In conclusion, we Americans are poor arbitrators of the situation in Palestine. Our information is unreliable, and there are too many forces at play that we cannot account for. Besides, it is not ours to arbitrate and side one way or another. We must ask ourselves for biblical “Christian” solutions, and those solutions will be the most radical of all. The Arabs as well as the Israelis need Christ, and if that isn’t our highest priority and concern, then we’ve lost it.

Jordan-Israel Adventure Part 1

Jordan/Israel Tour
Here is, at last, a brief summary of our Jordan-Israel tour. We took many photos, over 1300 actually, so only a few will be shown. Because of the length of this, I decided to split it up into three parts, published in reverse chronological order to make it flow normally.
Day 1/2—awoke at 3:30 am to get ready to go. We got to the Seatac airport by 6 am and were hassle-free getting on the plane. The flight to Dulles-Wasghington DC was 4.5 hours, and we then got to meet our companions. We lost three hours from jet lag. The flight to Wien was overnight, an 8-hour endeavor, with another 5-hour jet-lag loss. The final trip from Wien to Amman was another 4.5 hours, 2 hours more jet-lag loss, and we hit Amman a bit tired, but ready to tour. Our first encounter was with Mo, who would be our guide for the Jordan duration of the tour. He was superb. We had dinner buffet style in the hotel, took a walk around town, and then crashed.
Day 3—awoke at 5:30 for breakfast at 7. We needed to be completely packed for breakfast since the bus left immediately after breakfast., Our first stop was at the excavation of the large Roman Decapolis city of Jaresh, just outside of Amman, it was rather impressive for its size.
Amphitheater at Jaresh
Part of the group
From there, we went on to Mt. Nebo, where Moses viewed the promised land, The sky was a bit hazy, so you couldn’t see the best’. Jerico and the plains of the Jordan River stood out. The evening ended with a long ride through the desert in darkness to our hotel at Petra. A few people took a night walk through Petra, but Betsy and i decided to lay low and catch up on Jetlag.
Foggy view of Jericho from Mt. Nebo, standing exactly in the spot where Moses stood.
Day 4 Petra—  We were up early for our Petra adventure. They did a light show walk the night before, but Betsy and I turned it down. Petra is much different than I imagined. The Treasury is the most famous building, known to Indiana Jones fans, but the narrow passage is much longer than I thought,, and goes way beyond the Treasury. Betsy and I went beyond, up to the Monastery, where one could see the Negev, and the whole region. I also climbed up to another site, which was called the high place, where the Petra folk would hold sacrifices. It was about 15 miles of walking, and most of that was climbing, but well worth it.
Begin of the walk into Petra
Graves on the way into Petra
The walk into Petra, not with Indiana Jones but with Washington Betsy
The Treasury – actually a mortuary site
Camels guarding the TreasuryTrail up to the Monastery
Jon, Betsy, Lynn, Peta, and Ward resting from the climb
Still climbing
A view from higher up the Monastery trail
The Monastery
A marvelously beautiful lady waiting for me on top
Man with Hooka on the trail
Donkey on the Trail

Day 5—Aqaba and the Red Sea.  From Petra, we headed south on the main trade route across the mid-east, headed toward Aqaba. Half-way there, we stopped for a truck ride into the desert at Wadi Rum, made famous by Lawrence of Arabia. There is actually a mountain there called the seven pillars of wisdom. We stopped to visit some Beduins and buy tea from them. We Finally made it to a fancy Radisson hotel in Aqaba and enjoyed the sunset. We also learned of Obama making it a second term.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom in Wadi Rum
Desert Jeep ride
Bedoin Tent
The Desert
Betsy loved the camels
Aqaba, the Red Sea
Continued in Part 2…

Jordan-Israel Adventure Part 2

Day 6—we took off from Aqaba to the Dead Sea by a circuitous route. The crossing into Israel demanded a change in buses. Our first stop was at the southern copper mines, with the pillars of Solomon. They had a mockup of the wilderness tabernacle here. We then traveled northeast to several very large craters south of the Negev. I was fairly overwhelmed by the irregularity of the landscape. I have no idea how Moses with a million plus people could have made it through. We stopped at the grave of Ben-Gurion,and was able to overlook the valley of Zin, where Moses sent out the spies to the land of Canaan. Finally, we made it to Dead Sea just as the sun was going down.

Temple mock-upOverview of tabernacle
Wilderness of Zin
Day 7—An early rise and breakfast was followed by travel along the west coast of the Dead Sea. First, we stopped at the Masada, where in AD73 a group of Jewish zealots were finally brought to an end by the Romans building a massive siege ramp up to the fortress. This was followed by a hike up En-Gedi, where David encountered Saul in a cave. We stopped at Qumram, the site of discovery of the Dea Sea scrolls. Finally, there was a stop at the archeological dig at Jericho, where one could see the fallen walls of the old city. By then, nightfall had hit, and we drove up in darkness to Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee for our hotel.

 Cable car to the top of the MasadaThe cliffs off the top of the Masada, overlooking the Dead Sea
The Springs of en-Gedi
Rock Coney, at En-gedi
Jericho ruins
Day 8— This was a busy day. It had started raining, so that everything was quite muddy. We started out by going to the top of Arbel, a peak with a very steep cliff, and a similar adjoining mountain with a narrow canyon between.  It is in this canyon that the road from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee runs. We then went to Yardinit, where they have a commercial production of getting baptised or re-baptised. I was a bit astonished to find that Betsy and I were the only people in our group that said no to this. It is like suggesting to get re-circumcised. It cheapens baptism to a simple show or action that we do. Anyway, from there, we traveled to the town (excavation mostly) was Magda, which used to be one of the larger cities on the Sea of Galilee and from where Mary Magdalene came. Traveling north, we saw a boat which had been discovered in the mud of the sea of Galilee, and showed what a typical fishing boat it Jesus’ time looked like. We went out a short ways on the sea in a wooden boat, a form of crass commercialism that they called the Jesus-boat. We went up to the mount of the beatitudes, and, first avoiding the “church” the Papists built in the 1930s, but rather sat on the slope where Jesus probably gave his sermon. It was interesting that the stony ground of basalt amplified the voice in that area so that one could speak to a large crowd and be heard. Going inside the church was a small comedy that was more an idol to the Papists than a reverential area. We last went to Caperneum on the north side of the sea of Galilee, to see the synagogue where Jesus taught, and to see the alleged house of Peter. The Papists built a giant flying saucer over the home to protect it, which they also called a church. Back to our hotel in Tiberius, we were a little exhausted, enduring many crowds and a constant rain.
On top of Arbel, overlooking the Sea of Galilee
Tree and beautiful Frau on summit of Arbel
It rained all day, leaving a very wet John
Drei Engeln am Jordan Ufer
Schöne Frau am Jordan Ufer
On the Sea of Galilee looking back at Capernaum and Arbel
Slope where Jesus probably taught the sermon on the Mount
Unmasked caped crusaders at the Beatitudes mount church
Day 9—    And yet another very busy day. I hope I can remember everywhere we went! We started by heading north of Tiberias into the Hula valley. On the right, you could see the hills of Naphthali, which border Lebanon. We visited the archaeological dig at Dan, seeing mostly Old Testament history, notably the high place that Jeroboam created. From there, we headed up into the Golan Heights, stopping at Castle Nimrod, a Crusader era Castle built by the Muslims, and fortress on the Damascus Road. We skirted the side of Mt. Hermon, stopping at a Nature Preserve of one of the three sources of the Jordan River. We drove up to the top of Mt. Bental,  where we were able to look onto Syria. There had been some Syrian fire toward Israel yesterday, and as we left the mountain, we saw two attack helicopters flying over us, only to learn later that there was more fire toward Israel, and that Israel launched a retaliatory return fire. We visited a partially restored Talmudic house from the time of Christ, and then an olive oil factory. Lastly, we stopped by the ruins of Bethsaida, home of Philip and Andrew, and probably where Jesus performed the miracle of the feeding of the 5000.
In the area of Dan, at one of the three sources for the Jordan River
The high place at Dan, built by Jeroboam. The metal frame attempts a reconstruction of the possible form of the high place.
The entrance of the ancient Canaanite city of Dan. Abraham probably walked through this portal.
Schlomo on Mount Bental overlooking Syria
Day 10—  It was sad leaving the peaceful serenity of the Sea of Galilee. We drove through the town of Cana, which is now a fairly large town, and skirted Nazareth, an even larger town. We did not go into Nazareth itself, since nothing there resembled what might have been found in Jesus time. Instead, we went to the precipice outside of town, a very steep cliff that drops off into the Jezreel valley. It gave a great view of Mt. Tabor, Mt. Gilboa, and the whole Jezreel plain. You could also see where the town tried to through Jesus off the cliff. We ventured from there to the Archaeological digs at Mediggo, having both Canaanite as well as Solomonic and post-Solomonic findings. The next stop was the top of Mt. Carmel, where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal. Traveling down the coast in the plain of Sharon, we arrived in Caesarea, a town with harbor. Built by Herod, and visited often by Paul, but also where Peter met Cornelius.  We arrived by nightfall in Jerusalem, where we took a walk that evening into the old city, and  visited the wailing wall. We wailed.
Mount Tabor and the Jezreel Valley from the precipice
Jezreel valley looking back to Nazareth from Mt. Carmel
Remains of seaport at Caesarea
Mediterranean Sea from Caesarea
Aqueduct which brought water to the city of Caesarea
Continued in Part 3…

Jordan-Israel Adventure Part 3

Day 11— yet another hectic day. We started in the old city of Jerusalem, first visiting the pools of Bethesda, and then wandering through the via dolorosa, visiting the stations of the cross. Unfortunately, much of what we saw were just churches built over sites, or small patches of the real thing underground, and thus not realistic. After lunch, we proceeded first to the Herodian, a massive fortress like the Masada, built by Herod as an escape, and probably in view of Mary and Joseph from Bethlehem. We went to the shepherd’s fields, and then into Bethlehem itself. This was a massive zoo. We skipped the alleged manger site, and visited right next door the church holding the study room and grave of St. Jerome. I have a deep admiration for Jerome. We came home tired but with a rewarding day.
Garden of Gethsemane – old olive tree
Bethlehem from the Herodian
John in the Shepard’s cave – where the angels announced the birth of Christ
Tomb of Jerome
Day 12—More Jerusalem today. We started with the western wall, then took a walk underground where the western wall was being excavated.  We then went to a museum that had a large mock-up of the second temple. In that museum were pieces of the Dead Sea scrolls on display as well as the Aleppo book. The next stop was a holocaust museum, very moving but very Jewish in its sentimentality. The last stop was very notable in that our tour guide, Schlomo, took us to his brother-in-law, who is an orthodox Rabbi and scribe, who demonstrated how he would hand produce the Torah on parchment, which would take him over a year to accomplish. Everything had to be kosher, including the paper, the ink, the writing utensils,  no letter could touch another, and no letter could be either too tall or too short. We arrived back at the hotel happy from a full day.
More wailing
And more wailing
Tree at Holocaust museum dedicated to Corrie Ten Boom and family
The Scribe
The scribe scribing
Day 13— Our day started with a scheduled tour of the temple mount, only to discover that it was an unexpected Muslim holiday, and thus it was not open. We retreated, toured the old city of David, and watched a 3D movie which made it super-clear where David’s city sat. Over the years and many changes to the city walls, the terrain has become somewhat unrecognizable, and the old Canaanite city of David actually no longer sits in the city. We got to walk through hezekiah’s tunnel, and saw William’s shaft, which it perhaps how Joab’s army got into the city. Our focus then turned to the sewage system of the Tyropean Valley, over which Robinson’s arch stood and where merchants lined the paths. We looked at the southern walls, the stairs leading up to the entrance of the temple in Jesus’ time, and was how Jesus typically entered the temple. We made a mad dash to Gordon’s Golgotha, a convincing site, through Christ was probably crucified below the cliff, and not on the hill. The garden tomb also seemed convincing contrary to the official catholic site. The best archeological evidence still favors the Catholic site, according to Dr. John. We took it easy in the evening, preparing for one last day.
Descent into Hezekiah’s tunnel
Walking Hezekiah’s tunnel
The steps to the pool of Siloam
Bar Mitzvah family at Wailing Wall
The stairs to the southern Gate, where Christ probably entered the temple
A strange couple lurking in the Old City of Jerusalem
Day 14- This was a free day, and we spent our time wandering through the old city. We tried to walk the walls of Jerusalem, but it was off limits since it was Friday. We went up to the top of the Lutheran church (Kirche unser Erlöser) for a great view of the city. The remainder of the time was spent relaxing. That evening, I took a taxi with John and several other people up to the top of the Mount of Olives, and then we walked down, walking past the Eastern Wall and back to the hotel.
Tomb of Jehosaphat and Absalom
The Golden Gate, sealed by the Muslims to prevent the Messiah from entering
The Golden Walls of Jerusalem
Israeli police guarding the temple site from loonies
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I would have gathered your children together…and you were not willing. See, your house is left desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”.
Day 15- It was a long flight home. Our plane out of Tel Aviv was a bit hurried when they learned that there was rockets coming in from Gaza. Since we were gaining 10 hours from the flight, it seemed to take forever to get back home. But, all went well and we were grateful to be back in our own comfortable surrounding.
Thoughts on the trip…
The trip was a perfect overview of the Holy Land. John was a super leader, and I would heartily recommend him to anybody considering a trip to Israel, Jordan, or elsewhere in the mideast.
Things that we would have liked on the trip include…
1. A little less busy pace. Some excursions could have been edited out. We barely had time to enjoy the situation. We usually arrived at the hotel after sundown, making enjoyable visits to the Dead Sea and other spots an impossibility. Also, I was interested in just seeing the lay of the land from the bus, but often the travel ended up at the end of the day in darkness, making it impossible to fully appreciate the land.
2. The Israel part of the trip was a little too heavy with the orientation around modern Jewish affairs. Some sites were nice, but there was perhaps too much, with visits to David Ben-Gurion’s grave, Rachel’s grave, the Holocaust museum, etc. Instead, many biblical sites were completely ommitted, including Beer-Sheva and Hebron, the Sheffela, Bethany, the Jericho Road, Shechem and Mt Gerizim/Ebal, etc. It was supposed to be a Bible lands tour, not a modern Israel tour.
3. Egypt. We initially signed up because the trip included Egypt. Then, the Muslim Brotherhood went on the rampage. Oh well. Maybe someday.
What we liked about the tour far exceeded any criticisms. These included…
1. John was very knowledgeable about the land, the archaeology, and the scriptural correlates to what we were seeing. He was a superb teacher. He watched his orientation so as to remain doctrinally neutral on some touchy subjects like eschatology.
2. The hotels and facilities, the bus, the meals, the guides were all first class. It could not have been better planned.
3. John was adept at bringing in biblical lessons to the places we visited. He had a heart for worship while on tour, being able to bring glory to God by pointing to us scriptural correlates in what we saw.
This trip gave me new insights in several ways…
1. It made historical reading of the narratives involving the land of Israel more clear. I could understand the idea of Jesus being led out of Nazareth to be thrown off a cliff. I could understand the sermon on the mount context, the sea of Galilee experiences, the wanderings of David while watching sheep in Bethlehem, the difficulty of Abraham chasing the four Mesopotamian kings from Beer-Sheva to Dan and beyond.
2. I used to read the Bible through every year, but haven’t for several years. This generated interest in again committing the Scriptures to a cover-to-cover read. Historical sections make more sense.
3. Learned more about the Arab-Israel conflict, much from an Israeli viewpoint. I’ll speak more about Jews vs. Arabs in another blog.
4. Insights into the spiritual condition of Israel.
a) Arabs – hard to judge. They have prayer towers virtually everywhere, including throughout the Jewish and Christian quarters of the old city of Jerusalem. You can’t go anywhere in Israel without seeing prayer towers. Having religious control of the temple mount (the Israelis have military control) leaves Arabs in control of the ultimate religious say in the country.
b) Jews – they continue in the sins of the time of Jesus. The reason they remain in their current state reflects their inability to acknowledge their Messiah. Perhaps their religious orientation is even more intense for ritual than ever. Their worship of the old temple wall is disgusting. They remain lost.
c) Christians, including all sects of Christians, pose a new form of idolatry, the idolatry of place. Is there not perhaps a reason why God allowed the sites in Israel where history occurred to be lost? Whether it’s identifying the cave of Machpelah to the site of the crucifiction, we really don’t know. Yet, so many sites are worshipped and venerated, like the “site” of the nativity, the “site” of the burial of Jesus, the “site” of the sermon on the mount, to name just a few. Protestants have the same failing, feeling that a baptism in the Jordan River confers something special. In the end, they make a mockery of the significance of baptism. So one “walked today where Jesus walked”, talked where Jesus talked,  fished today where Jesus fished, or ate today where Jesus ate. The importance is on the person and not the place.
5. Desire to pray for peace in Israel. Every solution proposed fails. Fund Israel more. Quit funding Israel. Exterminate the Palestinians (that’s right, I heard this solution offered by a member of our group). Send the Jews to Antartica. Get both sides talking. Be nice. Etc. Etc. Etc. Virtually every solution is a fantasy land of wishfulness, that everybody would just love each other. Make love, not war. It won’t happen until the prince of Peace returns in the clouds, where every eye will behold him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so, AMEN! (Rev 1:7) For now, we pray for peace in Jerusalem, and that the tribes of Israel will acknowledge their Messiah, the Messiah of Jews, Muslims, Arabs, and even Germans.

The History and Nature of Apologetics

The History and Nature of Apologetics, by Cornelius VanTil ★★★★
I would have given this lecture series five stars, except that the recording is at points quite awful, making the lecture unable to be understood. The last two lectures were incomprehensible. With presuppositional apologetics being the hallmark of VanTillian thinking, I would have thought that he would have belabored the use of the word “presuppositional”. I think he used that word just several times. I would have thought that he would have come down hard on Francis Schaeffer, as many of VanTil’s disciples tend to rip Schaeffer to shreds, yet VanTil gives Schaeffer the highest compliments in this lecture series. Schaeffer also tends to stray from strict presuppositionalism in his apologetics, which leaves me wondering if VanTil wouldn’t have given more leeway than the “radical” VanTillians of today. This series was obtained for free on UTunesU from Westminster Theological Seminary. It is six one-hour lectures long. VanTil can be a challenge to read, and often his writings seem to not make sense or seem to leave VanTil unclear as to what he’s saying. His lectures are extremely easy to listen to though often quite thick. VanTil develops the idea that our theology gives way to a clear method of apologetics. Since all men are fallen and logic in a fallen mind unreliable, the only reliability must start from God himself, as given in His statements to man, as found in Scripture. Thus, Scripture must first be presumed, though evidence in the world can substantiate the claims of Scripture. I don’t think Schaeffer would have objected to this, though his emphasis would have been on the evidence that substantiates the claims of Scripture. VanTil must be contended with and taken seriously for anybody speaking of Christ in the marketplace. This is not a bad place to start through this lecture series.

Against Christianity

Against Christianity, by Peter Leithart ★★
This book is Peter Leithart’s latest publication, and with the provocative title, decided it was worth reading. It wasn’t. I have generally appreciated Leithart’s thinking and writing, but this book was a let-down. The preface begins with praise for various theologians, all in the new perspectives on Paul camp, various ethicists (Yoder & Hauerwas) and historian Wayne Meeks.  The NPP theologians have certainly created a stir in the Reformed Theology camps, yet seem to offer a diminishment of the gospel of the Reformers rather than a new enlightened perspective. I wouldn’t call them heretics, but I’d definitely identify them as outside of the Lutheran/Calvinistic tradition. The two ethicists’ writings often lead one to question whether they believe in the God of the Bible. Hauerwas was incidentally poked fun at because of his foul mouth in the final chapter, not exactly illustrative of one who would serve to develop one’s ethic. This doesn’t mean that Yoder and Hauerwas are to be dismissed, as, for example, Hauerwas’ book Resident Aliens is a superb, must-read classic. Meeks also leaves one wondering whether he truly believes the Scriptures to be the word of God, and would be better placed in the camp of theological liberalism. One would almost wonder why Leithart left out Barth and Kung as among his heroes?
The first chapter is titled Against Christianity. Leithart identifies that the word “Christianity” is never mentioned in Scripture, and then selectively identifies “Christianity” as meaning the rituals, cultus, and behavior that Christians experience. Leithart then waxes long against Christianity being a privatized religion, emphasizing instead the cultural and community aspects of living as a Christian. Salvation, according to Leithart, happens in an ecclesiastical context, stating “The Church is neither a reservoir of grace nor an external support for the Christian life. The church is salvation” (emphasis Leithart’s). The theme against the “McDonaldization” of Christianity, Christianity rather being a counter-culture to the world, and against all that the world represents. It is opposed to both political conservatism as well as liberalism when the focus is not on the kingdom of God. While I am in general agreement with Leithart’s thesis, his rough edges tend to diminish his message. I disagree that the church is salvation without clarifying what one means by that. I don’t feel that we trash the word “Christianity”, or replace it with the word “Christendom” as he has later in the book.
Chapter 2 is titled Against Theology. The chapter can be briefly summarized as Leithart being opposed to theology that does not beget worship and service. Leithart is definitely NOT against theology, and the title of this chapter is deceptive since Leithart would take very strong statements against muddled or poorly done theology, no matter how devotional it leaves the practitioner. Leithart says nothing new that many others haven’t already said. JI Packer in particular comments that “there is no God in Berkhof” because Berkhof’s Systematic Theology is good but dry and technical, implying that theology should spontaneously lead to praise and worship.
Chapter 3, Against Sacraments, is not against sacraments, but against the way in which they have evolved in the Christian church, though Leithart also implies the entire ritual of Christian worship as part of the sacrament. Speaking against the Reformers who promoted the preaching of the word above the sacraments, Leithart actually calls for a return to an elevated significance to the sacraments as a form of public worship, and against privatized religion. Leithart then discusses at length whether the sacraments are symbolic or reality, and the answer is that they are totally both.
In Chapter 4, Against Ethics, Leithart speaks not against ethics, but rather spends his time developing an alternative ethic for the church. And this ethic, like the chapters before, is an ethic of the counter-culture church. He refers back to patristic church life making a positive identity in the world by clashing with the accepted Roman ethic. Leithart calls us back to a truly biblical ethical system.
The last chapter, For Constantine, begins as a polemic against the many writers, such as Hauerwas, who have concluded that Constantine was the start of the downfall of the church. Leithart sharply notes that such writers provide only the most pessimistic approach to Christiandom being a seasoning on the whole of society. Yet, Leithart’s argument in this book is quite incomplete. I suppose he expects you to read his Defending Constantine, which is not a bad book but off the topic of this book. He ends by noting that the spirit has abandoned the church, but, somewhere and somehow the church will rise again.
So, how do I provide a global summary of this book? Leithart presents nothing new in this text that hasn’t been saying better elsewhere. Oftentimes, the reader is left wondering whether Leithart has been smoking something just made legal in the state of Washington. He reads in a disjointed fashion with a chip on his shoulder. He is out to prove an issue, and not to solve a problem. Thus, in spite of my appreciation for the writings of Leithart, I find it difficult to give this book more than 2 stars.

Christ and Human Thought

Christ and Human Thought – A lecture series by Cornelius VanTil ★★★★★
This is a lecture series by VanTil, which can be obtained for free from UTunes University. It is essentially a history of philosophy from the perspective of VanTil. It is 28 lectures long, with many of the lectures longer than 90 minutes. VanTil is a giant, a tour-de-force, a masterful analyzer of human philosophy in the light of Christianity. VanTil shows the defect of all thinking outside of the Christian mindset. He stands with wonder as to why the Catholics would idolize the ancient Greeks and their monistic thinking, failing to identify a creator/creature distinction. VanTil marches through the middle ages to spend much time on Kant, followed by even more time on Karl Barth and his followers. Finally, he takes some jabs at the thining of Berkouwer and Gordon Clark. VanTil adds numerous personal anecdotes such as his sole encounter with Karl Barth. The last five lectures are actually separate from the lecture series but topically related, and tend to be reviews of the prior 23 lectures.
I took to listening to VanTil’s lectures with a mild sense that I would disagree with his thinking and outcomes. VanTil is quite persuasive in his arguments, and I would not hesitate at this point to cast my lot in the VanTillian camp. He does a marvelous performance of showing how secular theology has sunk into the Christian mindset, and how we can re-orient toward thinking Biblically. VanTil, like Francis Schaeffer, stands as a veritable giant in the philosophic landscape of the 20th century.  To avoid him and his writings/lectures is to our own peril.

The Gulag Archipelago

The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ★★★★★
This book details the Soviet prison system between the years 1918 and 1956. It was written based in part on the personal experience of the author, as well as the numerous contacts that Solzhenitsyn had with Zeks (prisoners) in the system. The book was originally written as three large volumes but later abridged by the author to be one volume, though still fairly large. I read the book on Kindle.
I won’t labor to detail chapter by chapter the contents of this book, but note instead that the author offers a mix of a very detailed history of the Soviet prison system, as well as a commentary as to the effects of this system on the Zek. Solzhenitsyn offers deep insights into the philosophic effects of the brutality of the system, that condemned those to prison for no good reason and no respectable trial and lead to the death of countless, perhaps millions of innocent people. Solzhenitsyn shows how when the state becomes more important than the individual, absolute tyranny occurs.
Solzhenitsyn writes in a very moving, heartfelt manner. His insights are most valuable. The parallels with the way the US is going leave me no doubt that the Gulag story will someday (perhaps soon) be seen in America. Solzhenitsyn does not appeal to revolution, as he saw first-hand how revolution only leads to deeper tyrannies. Instead, he calls for an internal revolution, a realization that ones’ relationship with God is the only thing of importance, responding to the world in a moral fashion, which one will not be able to know how to handle. Those who are politically active would be well-served with a copy of this book in their hand.

Conspiracy-A Biblical View

Conspiracy-A Biblical View, by Gary North ★★★★★
This is the best conspiracy book that I have read so far and probably the last for a while. He will freely admit that there are “conspiracies” out there, yet he won’t titillate the unctions of the extremists that feel that there is a conspirator or one of his agents under every rock and behind every tree. This book was downloaded free from Gary North’s website and was read in .pdf fashion on e-books for iPad. The book is dedicated to Antony Sutton and Otto Scott. Sutton was the author of a recently reviewed book by me, who sacrificed academic advancement to tell the truth. Otto Scott is an author that I once met and mostly writes about Christian perspectives on political matters. His book on Robespierre is first-class.
In the preface, North notes “at long last, a growing minority of Christians has begun to understand the theological and organizational nature of the cultural and civilizational war they are in and have long been in, unbeknownst to most of their predecessors” and then quotes Pat Robertson’s book on the New World Order. North notes “The issue here is the new world order. Jesus Christ inaugurated a New World Order. His followers call it the New Covenant. No other world order will ever replace it. But, there are rival orders and would-be orders. They have their spokesmen.” He then quotes George Bush but notes that George Bush, in calling for an NWO, misses a few hundred generations, back to ancient Egypt and before. So, North quotes Isaiah, “You are not to say, “It is a conspiracy!” In regard to all that these people call a conspiracy, you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. It is the Lord of Hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear. And He shall be your dread.” Isa 8:12-13. Again, “most historians have substituted some variation of cosmic impersonalism – the rule of impersonal forces – for the biblical concept of cosmic personalism: the rule of God. Conspiracy historians have usually substituted a rival version of cosmic personalism: the rule of secret societies. The thesis is the same…”. By now in the introduction, the reader should already have a good idea as to where Gary North is going.
The Introductory chapter first compares open vs. secret ministries, noting that Jesus was always open, thus putting the church in direct opposition with secret societies. North then develops the thesis of the existence of secret societies, none of which should be doubted. He asks “Then comes the inevitable question: Who is covering up? And why? Why the conspiracy of silence? Is all of this crazy? Or is some of it correct? What should the serious Christian think about conspiracies?” Chapter one develops arguments that show the reality of conspiracies but quotes heavily from CS Lewis’ book That Hideous Strength which talks about the secret government organization N.I.C.E. that is clandestine and intends of suppressing the liberties of mankind, a suggestion that even CS Lewis took conspiracies seriously. The end of the chapter again brings the reader back to a biblical viewpoint, noting that the conspiratorial time frame has been going on since Cain and Abel, with the fundamental ethical issue, “Which God should men worship?”. “There is one conspiracy, Satan’s, and ultimately it will fail”.  Chapter two discusses the biblical doctrine of human leadership, as modeled by King David. North then discusses the myth of the “will of the people”, as though the democratic process controls what happens in a western government. Yet, the people remain clueless (naive) as to how things really work. North diminishes the idea that our salvation comes through education, but rather, through a return to biblical morality. I’ll quote one of North’s examples. Why did the sixteenth amendment on the federal income tax go through (perhaps/probably even illegally!)? The public was sold the bill that they should sock it to the rich. A moral public would have objected to that. It might not have been coincidental that the sixteenth amendment passed just at the time that theological liberalism was taking root in American society. North notes that moral principles are skirted by the plea for “value-free” (moral-free) solutions.
Chapter three delves into the theology of the conspiracy. He notes “the chief premise of the modern conspirator is this: Man, the savior of man.” After attacking Marxism, North notes that Christians must not hide and “wait for the rapture”, but need to become politically active. Because man is fallen, it is necessary to convey limited power to the ruling class, with the absolute authority given only to God. North concurs that our constitution is correct in limiting the power of the governed, which is why the constitution is now being skirted about by the ruling class. North realizes that there must be a sustaining religion that governs society. The church and state must remain separate but in the alliance. Contrary to Marxism, “ethics is primary, not economics or political power”. North then viciously (and properly) attacks the system of fractional reserve banking, showing how it guarantees corruption. Later, North comments, “The motivation of conspiracies is simple: to be as God”.
Chapter four discusses specific conspiracies, but notes that should the various conspiratorial organizations be suddenly terminated, our problem would not be solved because other organizations would rise to fill the void. More important, according to North, is to be aware of their presence, and that their presence is contrary to Scriptural norms. The next chapter details how conspiracy historians have fared and failed in the course of history. An informed public is contrary to the intentions of the ruling elite. He uses numerous examples, one of which is the US entry into WWII, after heavily funding Hitler.  The role of the council on foreign relations is heavily mentioned. Yet, to believe in secret events that influence political policy and decision making, one will receive the sarcastic accusation of Rockefeller “I never cease to be amazed at those few among us who spot a conspiracy under every rock…”. Chapter 6 notes that there have been people willing to take the insults of Rockefeller and speak the truth. Carroll Quigley is heavily quoted, as well as James Billington. The response of the elite scholars goes in three phases 1) It isn’t true, 2) It’s true, but irrelevant, to 3) We knew all about it years ago. Chapter seven notes the disruption of the conspirators, as the public becomes aware of the inside actions of the power elite. North calls for a counter-offensive of a) self-education, b) morally grounded mobilization, c) cutting off the funds to the State. Chapter 8 calls for the replacement of evil with good. North appeals to replacing the power elite with godly men. Victory comes through steady, long-term replacement. The action begins locally, by being a member of a committed church. It comes through raising children in a family and not being educated by the state. It comes through becoming politically active. It comes through educating others as to what is really going on.
I appreciate this book since it puts a strong biblical perspective on conspiracies. They are not something to fear or run from, but to fight again, since the fight is a theological battle. In this regard, a previous book that I reviewed by Leithart remains completely consistent, contrary to comments to my review that are posted on this website. And, I’d expect that, since Leithart studied under Gary North at one time. The reality is that there is only one conspiracy that has existed through the ages but manifested in various ways, shapes and forms. Christians should seriously realize that many of whom they deem to be “Christian” is a part of the “other” side and that political party doesn’t separate the Christians from the pagans. This book is free, it is easy to read, and clearly offers a solution to the “conspiracy”. There is no excuse to not download and read it. (That means you too Dennis! Please read the book before commenting! It’s a price that you can afford)

Brotherhood of Darkness

Brotherhood of Darkness, by Dr. Stanley Monteith ★★★
Dr. Monteith has engaged in the collection of information on conspiracies for many years, in order to write this book. He provides a very brief overview of the many “conspiracy” groups out there, and how we should respond to them. This is an easy-to-read, short, four-chapter book, the last chapter taking up about half the book. Monteith first emphasizes the importance of grasping the concept that politics and world affairs are not necessarily occurring the way the news states that they are. Perhaps there are people and groups that are influencing how things happen, that go unnoticed by the general public. Chapter two dashes through a lengthy array of groups that have influenced state politics throughout the last several hundred years, including various bankers such as the Rothschilds, the trilateral commission, etc., etc.  He notes the influences that have brought on the world wars, but particularly notes how the Jews have often been unjustly the scapegoats. Needless to say, the amount of evidence of support from the Western world for the two world wars, and the rise of communism can no longer be disputed. The ultimate question as to why the Rockefellers, Wilson, Roosevelt, and others dumped billions of dollars into the Bolsheviks and subsequent Soviet states may not ever be answered, yet the fact that without their activity, wars and oppressive states would never have existed. Chapter three elaborates on chapter two, providing further evidence, mostly based on Quigley’s book Tragedy and Hope. Chapter 4 becomes more esoteric, elaborating on the role of the Masons, and then of occult Satanic organizations in attempting to form a one-world government. To this, he is correct in that the struggle is not against the various states, but against the world and the people of God. I find it difficult to disagree with Monteith on this point, yet am perplexed as to his ultimate solution. How does he propose we fight these clandestine organizations? Certainly the call to godly living in implicit in his argument, but what does he propose we do about the Bilderbergers? Should we greet their meetings with bullhorns such as what Alex Jones is doing? Should we stop paying taxes and leave the country as brother Dennis did? Should we engage in public nuisance protests such as the Occupy movement? Monteith leaves one in the dark. Perhaps the next book on a conspiracy that I review provides a much better approach to this subject, with a means of forming a personal response that is both effective and biblical.